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The Secular Vs. Religion?

11/8/2007 - 20:07 PST

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Address by Bishop Murray of Limerick

ENNIS, Ireland, NOV. 8, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the text of the speech delivered Tuesday by Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick at the Ceifin Conference in Ennis. The bishop proposed that secular culture and religion should enrich each other, rather than be placed in contrast.

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The title of this talk suggests a struggle between religion and the secular, but I don't believe that is the place to begin.  The issues about the place of religion in contemporary society certainly have all the signs of a conflict, but there are other, more important, perspectives.
 
Many voices tell us that religion has no place in the variety, complexity and sophistication of modern life; in economics, politics, science or, technology.
 
Sometimes people who think that religion has passed its sell-by date accept that it may beneficial in a private, unobtrusive way for those who need it. Religion may be viewed benignly, provided it does not intrude embarrassingly into 'the real world'.
 
Others take a harder line and see themselves as fighting to remove the remaining vestiges of religion because it is a force for the perpetuation of superstition and ignorance.  The latter view is most powerfully articulated by Professor Richard Dawkins:
 
"It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, "mad cow" disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate".
 
Our time is certainly marked by two contrasting views of the world.  Religion, or as Professor Dawkins expresses it, faith, is crucially involved in the clash between these views. The point at issue has been described in different ways.
 
Pope John Paul spoke of the culture of life and the culture of death. He pointed to the contrast between the growing consensus about the importance of human rights, and their growing violation in poverty, slavery, human trafficking, and new threats to life. He sees the roots of the crisis in "an eclipse" of a true sense of God and a true sense of humanity.
 
As he entered the conclave that elected him Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger described the conflict in another way:
 
"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires".
 
More often, the opposing mindsets are hardly articulated at all. A great deal of modern life proceeds as if the question of faith did not matter .  We have passed from a society where faith and public manifestations of faith were the norm, to a society which is, at best, embarrassed by any public visibility of faith. Our world seems increasingly marked by what has been called "tranquil apostasy".
 
How many areas, even in the lives of believers, could be described as 'religion free zones'? What has faith got to do with the fluctuations of the stock market, with the looming energy crisis, with house prices, with multinational companies, with new research possibilities, with the information age?  Soap operas, for instance, are largely religion-free: nobody talks about God and, since the departure of Glenroe, nobody goes to church. I suppose you could make an exception for The Simpsons!  Large parts of the world, even of the world in which believers live, function without any reference to faith.
 
Faith appears in the public arena in the form of controversies, scandals and personalities rather than questions about God. Moral questions are often misrepresented as a clash between secular and religious views, as if, for instance, one had to be a believer in God to ask questions about how we should regard the beginnings of human life.
 
There are two related assumptions, both of which need to be questioned.  The first is that religion has no place in public discourse and that what are termed 'religious views' may be ignored, perhaps after a token 'liberal' nod to say that "of course they should be respected".  The second is the assumption that if a person's views on social issues have been inspired and nurtured within a religious tradition, they can have no place in a rational discussion about what is best for our society.  The same does not seem to apply to people who are agnostic or atheist, whose views have also arisen in the context of assumptions not shared by everybody.
 
Today's feast of All the Saints of Ireland, reminds us that contemporary Ireland is a far cry from the days of a culture filled ...

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